By Doug Ireland
---- — The apparent drug overdose deaths of a Derry woman and University of New Hampshire student have prompted the organizers of a Belmont musical festival to promote “responsible partying.”
Meanwhile, Southern New Hampshire substance abuse counselors and law enforcement say the drug linked to the deaths of Brittany Flannigan, 19, of Derry and University of New Hampshire junior Olivia Rotondo, 20, of Providence, R.I., is relatively new to the area.
Flannigan, who would have begun her sophomore year this week at Plymouth State University, and two others fell ill last week while attending a concert at the House of Blues nightclub in Boston. The 2012 Pinkerton Academy graduate died later that morning while the other two survived.
Rotondo died Saturday night after attending the three-day Electric Zoo music festival in New York City. A 23-year-old New York man also died of an overdose while attending the festival.
They all are believed to have taken the popular dance club drug “Molly” or MDMA — a potent form of ecstasy known to produce immediate euphoria and then depression, according to local substance abuse experts.
When the Filterswep festival is held in Belmont on Oct. 5, a main theme of the event will be enjoying electronic dance music without using Molly or any other type of drug, according to Michelle Nigro.
Nigro is a spokeswoman for 11Onenine Production, organizer of Filterswep. The festival is being held in conjunction with the Dance for Paralysis Foundation at Lakes Region Casino.
She said the deaths have prompted 11Onenine Production and others putting on the event to send a message about the importance of “responsible partying.”
The acts include Milkman, Keys N’ Krates, Break Science, Viceroy, Crimes Pays and Outlet. A tribute to Flannigan and Rotondo is being planned, she said.
“A lot of the DJs are upset about what is happening,” Nigro said. “They want to do this now while it’s still on people’s minds.”
Flannigan’s death sent shock waves throughout the community, including Pinkerton, where two of her former teachers remembered the teen as a strong student with an infectious personality.
Teachers Joe Dion and Jennifer Brown said she was the last person they thought would ever die of a drug overdose.
Her death and the two other overdoses are being investigated by Boston police and the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office.
District Attorney’s Office spokesman Jay Wark said Bay State investigators have seen few cases involving Molly. The drug is more commonly found in other parts of the country, he said.
New Hampshire Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said the state’s Drug Task Force has seen very few cases of Molly or ecstasy — only about six to 12, she said.
“But it’s something that we are certainly aware of,” she said.
The office most often handles drug cases involving the illegal use of prescription drugs and heroin, Young said.
Police officials in several Southern New Hampshire towns, including Derry, Plaistow, Londonderry and Hampstead, said they have seen few, if any, cases where people were charged with possessing or using Molly.
“We haven’t seen that drug here in Plaistow,” Deputy police Chief Kathleen Jones said.
“We haven’t come across it yet — mostly, we see heroin,” Hampstead police Lt. John Frazier said.
Derry police Capt. Vern. Thomas said only one person in his town has been charged with possessing Molly in the past year. That individual also faced other drug charges, he said.
But Dr. Michael Knight, medical director of Hampstead Hospital, said the hospital has seen several people who have taken Molly in the last year, but no overdoses.
The euphoria experienced by taking the drug — available in capsules or pills — is followed by deep depression, often called “Suicide Tuesday,” Knight said.
That’s because those who take the popular dance party drug over the weekend suddenly crash a few days later, he said.
Although those who take Molly believe it’s harmless, a single dose can be fatal, increasing one’s heart rate and respiration, he said.
Molly was first used by the medical profession as a psychotherapy drug in the 1970s. It was then used for recreational purposes in the 1980s and 1990s at dance parties or “raves,” before peaking in popularity until about five years ago, Knight said.
Dr. Charles Bussison, director of Clear Brook Counseling Service in Londonderry, said he was surprised to hear of the overdose deaths, saying people usually don’t die using the drug.
Bussison said he’s only seen three or four cases in the last year. It’s often take along with other illegal drugs, he said. All the cases he saw involved college students.
“It’s one of the new designer drugs,” he said.